This scene opens with one of my favorite lines to quote: "The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold" (1). I have a great tendency to say that during the winter, and also Horatio's rejoinder, "It is a nipping and an eager air" (2). I don't get to say it very often now that we've moved to Virginia, but I used to say it a lot when we lived in colder climes.
Anyway! This is an exciting scene, and it ends with a cliffhanger. Now, Shakespeare didn't actually chop up his plays into scenes and acts when he wrote them -- the people who collected and printed them did that, and they do make sense in that each scene is in a different place or whatever, so you'd probably need a break there to change scenery, etc. But that means this scene ends in a terrible place. Feel free to just zip right on into Scene 5. If I can, I will post the next scene's commentary later today or tomorrow. I'll do my best.
So Hamlet and Horatio and Marcellus are out on the battlements, same spot as the previous night, waiting for the Ghost to show up. It's very noisy inside the castle because Claudius is observing a rowdy custom where every time he gives drinks a toast, people beat drums and blow horns to celebrate. Hamlet finds this practice disgusting, but it gives him something to chat about to cover his nervousness about the whole Ghost thing. Notice we get two really common phrases from this scene: "to the manner born" (15) and "more honored in the breach than the observance" (16). Except nowadays both of them get used a little differently. A lot of people write/say "to the manor born" as in someone is born in a wealthy family, not that they're native to a place where something is practiced. And "honored in the breach" anymore means something good that isn't getting done, whereas Hamlet is saying it's a bad thing that it would be better not to do.
Sorry. I'm wordy today. Hamlet must be rubbing off on me. So the Ghost shows up, and Hamlet freaks out, but in kind of an excited way. He's not at all sure what this apparition is -- "spirit of health or goblin damned" (40), but he wants to talk to it anyway because it looks like his dad. He calls it everything he can think of: "Hamlet, King, father, royal Dane" (44-45), but it doesn't answer to any of those, so he's still not sure what or who it is. But he talks to it a bunch anyway, because that's what Hamlet does. It beckons for him to follow it somewhere else, which Hamlet tries to do, but Horatio and Marcellus hold him back. (Random Hamlette thing: I have a huge penchant for scenes where someone desperately wants to go somewhere and gets physically restrained from doing it. So I love this.)
Horatio repeatedly tells him this is a bad idea: "No, by no means" (62), "Do not, my lord" (64), and "Be ruled. You shall not go" (81). But Hamlet completely rejects Horatio's wise counsel, shakes them both off, and pulls his sword, saying, "By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me" (85). 'Lets' there meaning 'prevents,' because English is an ever-evolving language and gets tricksy that way. Off goes the Ghost, with Hamlet in pursuit and... that's the end of the scene because Cliff Hangers Are Fun and In No Way Annoying!
BTW, my copy says "toys of desperation" (75) means "thoughts of suicide," which I don't remember reading before, so that's interesting in light of how Hamlet's going to be pondering being and not being in a couple of acts.
(More) Favorite Lines:
"Angels and ministers of grace defend us!" (39).
"He waxes desperate with imagination" (87).
"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (90).
Possible Discussion Questions:
Hamlet says "My fate cries out" (81) when he struggles away from Horatio and Marcellus' protecting hands. What do you think Hamlet believes the Ghost is going to say or do, at this point? How could it involve his own fate?
Random fun idea: What if Hamlet had heeded Horatio and not spoken to the Ghost? What might have happened differently?
If you've never read this before, what do you think of it so far? Is it what you expected?